In Yafo: Calls to Prayer

“After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts would be soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Preface to Philosophical Investigations

I confess that my eyes water up as I sing from the front of a great cathedral, with a half dozen others in robes, the Thomas Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah.  If I think of it later, I can consider singing them there to be prayer.  Reading at my desk, just now, in Yafo, with the call to prayer wafting through the streets from the sky-seeking minaret, I hear a suppressed lamentation, and remember the sustained prayer laying just beneath the robust surface of Thoreau’s essay, “Walking.” Of course, Cavell and others hear something like confession and prayer in Wittgenstein’s writing.  Why not prayer in Thoreau?  And in any case, why offer our expressions and exposures to God?  Further, can lamentation be witness to suffering . . . and simultaneously thankfulness?

There is nothing like theodicy’s legalistic acquittal of God at work here. A lament is not an argument. But prayers of lamentation might give us the sustenance of a fragile relation to the divine even amidst ineradicable and inexplicable suffering.  This singing out, hearing out, might be partial redemption of human spirit, a maintenance of relation to God that suffering threatens to sever.  If so, this living out, singing out, might enact a minimal theodicy.

Wittgenstein lets us express the ‘natural inclination’ of our thought (at the moment), released from the compulsion to force thought into a declarative argument we stand behind as finished — our word on the matter for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps even as I lament irredeemable loss, I am gifted with — there remains intact — resources of artistic-religious expression embodied in the very cries of lamentation. And the depth of these cries seems to attest to an unbroken spirit I can be thankful for, even as in so many ways God seems bent on breaking our hearts, and often our bodies, and a good deal of our spirit.

At his deathbed Wittgenstein said he had led a wonderful life – even as his writing laments the darkness of the time, and thoughts of suicide never depart him.

Thoreau did not contemplate suicide, but he let himself follow his brother into the land of the dead.


5 comments on “In Yafo: Calls to Prayer

  1. dmf says:

    Darkened by time, the masters, like our memories, mix
    And mismatch,
    and settle about our lawn furniture, like air
    Without a meaning, like air in its clear nothingness.
    What can we say to either of them?
    How can they be so dark and so clear at the same time?
    They ruffle our hair,
    they ruffle the leaves of the August trees.
    Then stop, abruptly as wind.
    The flies come back, and the heat—
    what can we say to them?
    Nothing is endless but the sky.
    The flies come back, and the afternoon
    Teeters a bit on its green edges,
    then settles like dead weight
    Next to our memories, and the pale hems of the masters’ gowns.
    Those who look for the Lord will cry out in praise of him.
    Perhaps. And perhaps not—
    dust and ashes though we are,
    Some will go wordlessly, some
    Will listen their way in with their mouths
    Where pain puts them, an inch-and-a-half above the floor.
    And some will revile him out of love
    and deep disdain.
    The gates of mercy, like an eclipse, darken our undersides.
    Rows of gravestones stay our steps,
    August humidity
    Bright as auras around our bodies.
    And some will utter the words,
    speaking in fear and tongues,
    Hating their garments splotched by the flesh.
    These are the lucky ones, the shelved ones, the twice-erased.
    Dante and John Chrysostom
    Might find this afternoon a sidereal roadmap,
    A pilgrim’s way …
    You might too
    Under the prejaundiced outline of the quarter moon,
    Clouds sculling downsky like a narrative for whatever comes,
    What hasn’t happened to happen yet
    Still lurking behind the stars,
    31 August 1995 …
    The afterlife of insects, space graffiti, white holes
    In the landscape,
    such things, such avenues, lead to dust
    And handle our hurt with ease.
    Sky blue, blue of infinity, blue
    waters above the earth:
    Why do the great stories always exist in the past?
    The unexamined life’s no different from
    the examined life—
    Unanswerable questions, small talk,
    Unprovable theorems, long-abandoned arguments—
    You’ve got to write it all down.
    Landscape or waterscape, light-length on evergreen, dark sidebar
    Of evening,
    you’ve got to write it down.
    Memory’s handkerchief, death’s dream and automobile,
    God’s sleep,
    you’ve still got to write it down,
    Moon half-empty, moon half-full,
    Night starless and egoless, night blood-black and prayer-black,
    Spider at work between the hedges,
    Last bird call,
    toad in a damp place, tree frog in a dry …
    We go to our graves with secondary affections,
    Second-hand satisfaction, half-souled,
    star charts demagnetized.
    We go in our best suits. The birds are flying. Clouds pass.
    Sure we’re cold and untouchable,
    but we harbor no ill will.
    No tooth tuned to resentment’s fork,
    we’re out of here, and sweet meat.
    Calligraphers of the disembodied, God’s word-wards,
    What letters will we illuminate?
    Above us, the atmosphere,
    The nothing that’s nowhere, signs on, and waits for our beck and call.
    Above us, the great constellations sidle and wince,
    The letters undarken and come forth,
    Your X and my X.
    The letters undarken and they come forth.
    Eluders of memory, nocturnal sleep of the greenhouse,
    Spirit of slides and silences,
    Invisible Hand,
    Witness and walk on.
    Lords of the discontinuous, lords of the little gestures,
    Succor my shift and save me …
    All afternoon the rain has rained down in the mind,
    And in the gardens and dwarf orchard.
    All afternoon
    The lexicon of late summer has turned its pages
    Under the rain,
    abstracting the necessary word.
    Autumn’s upon us.
    The rain fills our narrow beds.
    Description’s an element, like air or water.
    That’s the word.

    NOTES: Poet’s note: “The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso, translated by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994); The Confessions of St. Augustine, translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961); Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger (New York: Persea Books, 1989); ‘Adagia,’ Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957).”

    Charles Wright, “Black Zodiac” from Black Zodiac
    audio @:

  2. dmf says:
    G.Steiner’s review of Anne Carson’s Antigonick

  3. dmf says:

    Drunken Morning by Arthur Rimbaud,

    Oh, my Beautiful! Oh, my Good!
    Hideous fanfare where yet I do not stumble!
    Oh, rack of enchantments!
    For the first time, hurrah for the unheard-of work,
    For the marvelous body! For the first time!
    It began with the laughter of children, and there it will end.
    This poison will stay in our veins even when, as the fanfares depart,
    We return to our former disharmony.
    Oh, now, we who are so worthy of these tortures!
    Let us re-create ourselves after that superhuman promise
    Made to our souls and our bodies at their creation:
    That promise, that madness!
    Elegance, silence, violence!
    They promised to bury in shadows the tree of good and evil,
    To banish tyrannical honesty,
    So that we might flourish in our very pure love.
    It began with a certain disgust, and it ended –
    Since we could not immediately seize upon eternity –
    It ended in a scattering of perfumes.
    Laughter of children, discretion of slaves, austerity of virgins,
    Horror of faces and objects here below,
    Be sacred in the memory of the evening past.
    It began in utter boorishness, and now it ends
    In angels of fire and ice.
    Little drunken vigil, blessed!
    If only for the mask you have left us!
    Method, we believe in you! We never forgot that yesterday
    You glorified all of our ages.
    We have faith in poison.
    We will give our lives completely, every day.

  4. dmf says:

    After days of darkness I didn’t understand
    a second of yellow sunlight
    here and gone through a hole in clouds
    as quickly as a flashbulb, an immense
    memory of a moment of grace withdrawn.
    It is said that we are here but seconds in cosmic
    time, twelve and a half billion years,
    but who is saying this and why?
    In the Salt Lake City airport eight out of ten
    were fiddling relentlessly with cell phones.
    The world is too grand to reshape with babble.
    Outside the hot sun beat down on clumsy metal
    birds and an actual ten-million-year-old
    crow flew by squawking in bemusement.
    We’re doubtless as old as our mothers, thousands
    of generations waiting for the sunlight.

    “Sunlight” by Jim Harrison

  5. dmf says:

    Elegiac Feelings American

    How inseparable you and the America you saw yet was never
    there to see; you and America, like the tree and the
    ground, are one the same; yet how like a palm tree
    in the state of Oregon. . . dead ere it blossomed,
    like a snow polar loping the
    How so that which you were or hoped to be, and the
    America not, the America you saw yet could
    not see
    So like yet unlike the ground from which you stemmed;
    you stood upon America like a rootless
    Hat-bottomed tree; to the squirrel there was no
    divorcement in its hop of ground to its climb of
    tree. . . until it saw no acorn fall, then it knew
    there was no marriage between the two; how
    fruitless, how useless, the sad unnaturalness
    of nature; no wonder the dawn ceased being
    a joy. . . for what good the earth and sun when
    the tree in between is good for nothing. . . the
    inseparable trinity, once dissevered, becomes a
    cold fruitless meaningless thrice-marked
    deathlie in its awful amputation. . . O butcher
    the pork-chop is not the pig—The American
    alien in America is a bitter truncation; and even
    this elegy, dear Jack, shall have a butchered
    tree, a tree beaten to a pulp, upon which it’ll be
    contained—no wonder no good news can be
    written on such bad news—
    How alien the natural home, aye, aye, how dies the tree when
    the ground is foreign, cold, unfree—The winds
    know not to blow the seed of the Redwood where
    none before stood; no palm is blown to Oregon,
    how wise the wind—Wise
    too the senders of the prophet. . . knowing the
    fertility of the designated spot where suchmeant
    prophecy be announced and answerable—the
    sower of wheat does not sow in the fields of cane;
    for the sender of the voice did also send the ear.
    And were little Liechtenstein, and not America, the
    designation. . . surely then we’d the tongues of
    Was not so much our finding America as it was America finding
    its voice in us; many spoke to America as though
    America by land-right was theirs by law-right
    legislatively acquired by materialistic coups of
    wealth and inheritance; like the citizen of society
    believes himself the owner of society, and what he
    makes of himself he makes of America and thus when
    he speaks of America he speaks of himself, and quite
    often such a he is duly elected to represent what he
    represents. . . an infernal ego of an America
    Thus many a patriot speaks lovingly of himself when he speaks
    of America, and not to appreciate him is not to
    appreciate America, and vice-versa
    The tongue of truth is the true tongue of America, and it could
    not be found in the Daily Heralds since the voice
    therein was a controlled voice, wickedly
    opinionated, and directed at gullible
    No wonder we found ourselves rootless. . . for we’ve become the
    very roots themselves,—the lie can never take root
    and there grow under a truth of sun and therefrom bear the fruit of truth

    Alas, Jack, seems I cannot requiem thee without
    requieming America, and that’s one requiem
    I shall not presume, for as long as I live there’ll
    be no requiems for me
    For though the tree dies the tree is born anew, only until
    the tree dies forever and never a tree born
    anew. . . shall the ground die too
    Yours the eyes that saw, the heart that felt, the voice that
    sang and cried; and as long as America shall live, though
    ye old Kerouac body hath died, yet shall you live. . .
    for indeed ours was a time of prophecy without death
    as a consequence. . . for indeed after us came the time
    of assassins, and whotll doubt thy last words ‘After
    me. . . the deluge’
    Ah, but were it a matter of seasons I’d not doubt the return of the
    tree, for what good the ground upon which we stand
    itself unable to stand—aye the tree will in seasonal
    time fall, for it be nature’s wont, thaPs why the
    ground, the down, the slow yet sure decomposition,
    until the very tree becomes the very ground where
    once it stood; yet falls the ground. . . ah, then what?
    unanswerable this be unto nature, for there is no
    ground whereon to fall and land, no down, no up
    even, directionless, and into what, if what,
    composition goeth its decomposition?
    We came to announce the human spirit in the name of
    beauty and truth; and now this spirit cries out in nature’s sake
    the horrendous imbalance of all things natural. . .
    elusive nature caught! like a bird in hand, harnessed
    and engineered in the unevolutional ways of
    experiment and technique
    Yes though the tree has taken root in the ground the ground is
    upturned and in this forced vomitage is spewn the
    dire miasma of fossilific trees of death the
    million-yeared pitch and grease of a dinosauric age
    dead and gone how all brought to surface again and
    made to roam the sky we breathe in stampedes of
    What hope for the America so embodied in thee, O friend, when
    the very same alcohol that disembodied your
    brother redman of his America, disembodied
    ye—A plot to grab their land, we know—yet what
    plot to grab the ungrabbable land of one’s spirit? Thy visionary America were
    impossible to unvision—for when the shades of the
    windows of the spirit are brought down, that which
    was seen yet remains. . . the eyes of the spirit yet see
    Aye the America so embodied in thee, so definitely rooted
    therefrom, is the living embodiment of all
    humanity, young and free
    And though the great redemptive tree blooms, not yet full, not
    yet entirely sure, there be the darksters, sad and
    old, would like to have it fall; they hack and chop
    and saw away. . . that nothing full and young and
    free for sure be left to stand at all
    Verily were such trees as youth be. . . were such be made to fall,
    and never rise to fall again, then shall the ground
    fall, and the deluge come and wash it asunder,
    wholly all and forever, like a wind out of nowhere into nowhere

    ‘How so like Clark Gable hands your hands. . .’ (Mexico
    conversation 1956)—Hands so strong and Mexican
    sunned, busy about America, hands I knew would
    make it, would hold guard and caring
    You were always talking about America, and America was always
    history to me, General Wolfe lying on the ground
    dying in his bright redcoat smittered by a bluecoat
    hanging in the classroom wall next to the father of
    our country whose heart area was painted in cloud. .
    . yes, ours was an American history, a history with a
    future, for sure;

    How a Whitman we were always wanting, a hoping, an
    America, that America ever an America to be,
    never an America to sing about or to, but ever an
    America to sing hopefully for
    All we had was past America, and ourselves, the now America,
    and O how we regarded that past! And O the big lie
    of that school classroom! The Revolutionary War. . .
    all we got was Washington, Revere, Henry,
    Hamilton, Jefferson, and Franklin. . . never Nat
    Bacon, Sam Adams, Paine. . . and what of liberty?
    was not to gain liberty that war, liberty they had,
    they were the freest peoples of their time; was not to
    lose that liberty was why they went to arms—yet,
    and yet, the season that blossomed us upon the
    scene was hardly free; be there liberty today? not to
    hear the redman, the blackman, the youngman tell—
    And in the beginning when liberty was all one could hear; wasn’t
    much of it for the poor witches of Salem; and that
    great lauder of liberty, Franklin, paid 100 dollar
    bounty for each scalp of the wild children of natural
    free; Pitt Jr. obtained most of the city of brotherly
    love by so outrageous a deception as stymied the
    trusting heart of his red brother with tortuous
    mistrust; and how ignorant of liberty the wise
    Jefferson owning the black losers of liberty; for the
    declarers of independence to declare it only for part
    of the whole was to declare civil war
    Justice is all any man of liberty need hope for; and justice was a
    most important foundling thing; a diadem for
    American life upon which the twinship of private
    property and God could be established;
    How suffered the poor native American the enforced
    establishing of those two pillars of liberty!

    From justice stems a variable God, from God stems a
    dictated justice
    ‘The ways of the Lord lead to liberty’ sayeth St. Paul. . .
    – yet a man need liberty, not God, to be able to follow
    the ways of God
    The justness of individual land right is not justifiable to those
    to whom the land by right of first claim
    collectively belonged;
    He who sells mankind’s land to a single man sells the
    Brooklyn Bridge
    The second greatest cause of human death. . . is the
    acquiring of property
    No American life is worth an acre of America. . . if No
    Trespassing and guarding mastiffs can’t tell you
    shotguns will
    So, sweet seeker, just what America sought you anyway? Know
    that today there are millions of Americans
    seeking America. . . know that even with all
    those eye-expanding chemicals—only more of
    what is not there do they see
    Some find America in songs of clumping stone, some in
    fogs of revolution
    All find it in their hearts. . . and O how it tightens the heart
    Not so much their being imprisoned in an old and unbearable
    America. . . more the America imprisoned in
    them—so wracks and darkens the spirit
    An America unseen, dreamed, tremors uncertain, bums the
    heart, sends bad vibes forth cosmic and otherwise
    You could see the contempt in their young-sad eyes. . . and
    meantime the jails are becoming barber shops, and
    the army has always been
    Yet unable they are to shave the hurricane from their eyes
    Look unto Moses, no prophet ever reached the dreamed of
    lands. . . ah but your eyes are dead. . . nor the
    America beyond your last dreamed hill hovers

    How alike our hearts and time and dying, how our America out
    there and in our hearts insatiable yet overHowing
    hallelujahs of poesy and hope
    How we knew to feel each dawn, to ooh and aah each golden
    sorrow and helplessness coast to coast in our
    search for whatever joy steadfast never there
    nowever grey
    Yea the America the America unstained and never revolutioned
    for liberty ever in us free, the America in
    us—unboundaried and unhistoried, we the
    America, we the fathers of that America, the
    America you Johnnyappleseeded, the America I
    heralded, an America not there, an
    America soon to be

    The prophet affects the state, and the state affects the
    prophet—What happened to you, O friend,
    happened to America, and we know what
    happened to America—the stain. . . the stains,
    O and yet when it’s asked of you ‘What happened to him?’ I say
    ‘What happened to America has happened
    him—the two were inseparable’ Like the wind to the
    sky is the voice to the word….
    And now that voice is gone, and now the word is bone, and the
    America is going, the planet boned
    A man can have everything he desires in his home yet have
    nothing outside the door—for a feeling man, a poet
    man, such an outside serves only to make home a
    place in which to hang oneself
    And us ones, sweet friend, we’ve always brought America home
    with us—and never like dirty laundry, even with all
    the stains
    And through the front door, lovingly cushioned in our hearts;
    where we sat down and told it our dreams of beauty
    hopeful that it would leave our homes beautiful
    And what has happened to our dream of beauteous
    America, Jack?
    Did it look beautiful to you, did it sound so too, in its cold
    electric blue, that America that spewed and
    stenched your home, your good brain, that unreal
    fake America, that caricature of America, that
    plugged in a wall America. . . a gallon of desperate
    whiskey a day it took ye to look that America in its
    disembodied eye
    And it saw you not, it never saw you, for what you saw was not
    there, what you saw was Laugh-in, and all America
    was in laughing, that America brought you in,
    brought America in, all that out there brought in, all
    that nowhere nothing in, no wonder you were
    lonesome, died empty and sad and lonely, you the
    real face and voice. . . caught before the fake face
    and voice—and it became real and you fake,
    O the awful fragility of things

    ‘What happened to him?’ ‘What happened to you?’ Death
    happened him; a gypped life happened; a God gone
    sick happened; a dream nightmared; a youth
    armied; an army massacred; the father wants to eat
    the son, the son feeds his stone, but the father no
    get stoned
    And you, Jack, poor Jack, watched your father die, your America
    die, your God die, your body die, die die die; and
    today fathers are watching their sons die, and their
    sons are watching babies die, why? Why? How we
    both asked WHY?
    O the sad sad awfulness of it all

    You but a mere decade of a Kerouac, but what a lifetime in that
    dix Kerouacl
    Nothing happened you that did not happen; nothing went
    unfulfilled, you circ’d the circle full, and what’s
    happening to America is no longer happening
    to you, for what happens to the consciousness of the land
    happens to the voice of that consciousness and the voice has
    died yet the land remains to forget what it has heard and the
    word leaves no bone
    And both word and land of flesh and earth
    suffer the same sick the same death. . . and dies the voice before
    the flesh, and the wind blows a dead silence over the dying
    earth, and the earth will leave its bone, and nothing of wind will
    roll the moan, but silence, silence, nor e’en that will
    God’s ear hear

    Aye, what happened to you, dear friend, compassionate friend,
    is what is happening to everyone and thing of
    planet the clamorous sadly desperate planet now
    one voice less. . . expendable as the wind. . . gone,
    and who’ll now blow away the awful miasma of
    sick, sick and dying earthflesh-soul America

    When you went on the road looking for America you found only
    what you put there and a man seeking gold finds the
    only America there is to find; and his investment
    and a poet’s investment. . . the same when comes
    the crash, and it’s crashing, yet the windows are
    tight, are not for jumping; from
    hell none e’er fell

    In Hell angels sing too
    And they sang to behold anew
    Those who followed the first Christ-bearer
    left hell and beheld a world new
    yet with guns and Bibles came they
    and soon their new settlement became old
    and once again hell held quay
    The ArcAngel Raphael was I to you
    And I put the Cross of the Lord of Angels
    upon you. . . there
    on the eve of a new world to explore
    And you were flashed upon the old and darkling day
    a Beat Christ-boy. . . bearing the gentle roundness of things
    insisting the soul was round not square
    And soon. . . behind thee
    there came a-following
    the children of flowers
    -Gregory Corso

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